John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is behind us now, and it is likely that the innumerable news stories, television profiles and retrospectives will be put back on the shelf for another year, when we will go through it all again.
But for this brief time every year, the nation as a whole takes a look at the legacy of a man whose moral convictions and personal courage were strong enough to overturn laws and quicken a yearning for equality and justice that has yet to die down.
Not bad for a black minister from the Deep South, who bucked the odds, rose high above his given station in life and shook the foundations of a nation long ruled by racists and profiteers.
Of course, it took nearly 20 years after he was assassinated in April 1968 by a deranged follower of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, for the nation to declare King’s birthday a national holiday. I guess that’s just a reflection of the fact that a nation needs a little breathing time to get over its shame.
It is interesting to note that the place where King was killed, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Tennessee, is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. The old motel, which catered to a black clientele for decades before the King assassination, was slated for demolition in 1982.
But a group of dedicated believers in King’s legacy, and his importance to the nation, saved it from the wrecking ball.
I was listening to National Public Radio the other day, and during an interview of famed singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, he told of a meeting with King not long before the assassination.
Belafonte reported that King seemed “preoccupied” that day, somber and thoughtful, maybe even a little down.
At one point in a conversation, Belafonte recalled, King said something along the lines of, “I worry that we’re desegregating a burning house,” meaning the United States was in danger of burning itself to the ground in the struggles for social and economic justice.
“Well, what do you think we can do about that?” Belafonte asked.
“We need to become firemen,” said the man who, at that point in his life, was on the verge of becoming a radical firebrand in areas well beyond civil rights.
King, in his speeches and writings over the two years before he was murdered, had been speaking out against the War in Vietnam and demanding social and economic justice for the downtrodden on a global scale.
And as a man with a monstrous pulpit from which to rain verbal thunder down on the political and economic establishment, he was just too dangerous to be allowed to keep going.
Many, and I count myself among them, believe he was gunned down not for his civil rights work, but because of his ability to catalyze social protest.
Oh, sure, his supposed killer, James Early Ray, was a nutcase white supremacist and an easy man to accuse. But there is plenty of evidence that he was just a patsy, set up to take the fall by an as-yet unprosecuted group of backers.
In fact, there is evidence that the government had a hand in the planning of King’s assassination, a conclusion that makes a lot of sense if you think about it with an open mind.
Just as in the cases of John F. Kennedy and his brother, Bobbie, the rush to convict a lone gunman, despite convincing evidence pointing in other directions, has all the hallmarks of a complete whitewash, so to speak.
I mention all this because I can’t help but wonder what Martin would be saying to us right now in the middle of worldwide economic chaos, religious violence of a scope not seen in centuries, and efforts by ordinary people everywhere to shake off the bonds of corrupt and deeply entrenched governments run by thugs.
He’d be in his eighties now, but if he were still with us and able to get around, I’m pretty sure he would be out there at the barricades, insisting that there’s a better way to run a world and demanding change.
We miss you, Martin.
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